Dhaka and Riyadh are expected to strike a deal to resume recruitment from Bangladesh on a gradual basis, beginning with house servants such as maids and drivers.
The deal is likely to be signed today, the last day of the visit by a powerful Saudi delegation led by Dr Ahmed Al Fahaid, deputy minister for international affairs of the Kingdom's labour ministry.
“We issued around 1.3 million new visas last year for recruiting foreign workers…we need the same figure of workers. So, there are huge opportunities of employment of Bangladeshi people,” said the Saudi minister after a meeting with the Bangladesh delegation in Dhaka yesterday.
He was talking to journalists after the meeting at the expatriates' welfare ministry.
He added officials of the two countries were working to ink the deal which would outline details of the procedure, salary, working conditions and other admissible benefits.
“The deal will be signed tomorrow [today]. It will clarify the hiring process,” Khandker Md Iftekhar Haider, secretary of the expatriates' welfare ministry, told The Daily Star last night.
Dhaka has welcomed the move and said it would help Bangladesh to send more trained and qualified workforce to the Kingdom.
Khandker Mosharraf Hossain, minister for expatriates' welfare and overseas employment, said Bangladesh was ready to send 10,000 qualified workers to Saudi Arabia every month once the two countries sealed the deal.
He also said the Saudi employers would bear the entire migration cost, including that for air fare, levy and visa.
Presently, most of the country's remittance comes from Saudi Arabia, home to more than 15 lakh Bangladeshis. In 2013-2014, Bangladeshi workers in the KSA sent $3.12 billion in remittance to the country.
Bangladesh can earn $1.5 billion more a year if it can send another 10 lakh workers.
“We understand that Bangladesh can supply trained and qualified labor at a cheaper rate,” a Saudi diplomat in Dhaka told this newspaper.
He added Bangladesh pledged not to send people with criminal backgrounds.
Riyadh asked the Saudi Embassy in Dhaka to keep a watch on the measures taken by the Bangladesh government to this effect, he said.
The Saudi government laid utmost importance on recruitment of clean people following reports of Rohingyas being involved in criminal activities in the KSA.
According to the Saudi government, around 200,000 Myanmar nationals entered into the KSA with Bangladesh passports over the past 20 years.
Over the years, the Saudi authorities have been asking Dhaka to renew their documents. But Dhaka denied it, saying they were not Bangladeshis. This enraged the Saudi government.
In 2013, Dhaka also turned down a Saudi request to bring back 378 Rohingyas, identified as notorious criminals and put in jail on various charges.
The Saudi government claimed that these Rohingyas had Bangladesh passports.
Following a negotiation, Dhaka in 2013 agreed to issue special documents to Rohingya Muslims, but has yet to issue any such paper.
Against this backdrop, the KSA is now very strict about recruiting Bangladeshi workers.
Al Fahaid, the Saudi minister, who is leading a 19-member delegation, had an extensive meeting with a 10-member Bangladesh delegation led by the secretary of the expatriates' welfare ministry.
In the afternoon, the Saudi team also held talks with a delegation of Bangladesh Association of International Recruiting Agencies (Baira), a platform of private recruiting agencies, at a city hotel.
Bangladesh expatriates' welfare minister said the Saudi government would hire workers under 10 categories, including maids, housekeepers and drivers.
Asked about the cost, he said, “Governments of both countries agreed that the migration cost would be very nominal... I think the cost will not exceed Tk 15,000 to 20,000 per worker.”
He added the recruitment would be done through private agencies under strict government supervisions to avoid any untoward incident.
However, he said the government would not set any service fee for the recruiting agencies.
Contacted, Shahidul Islam, the outgoing Bangladesh ambassador to Saudi, said the minimum salary of a worker would not be less than SR 1,000 (about Tk 21,000).
“A Bangladeshi can earn Saudi Riyal 2,000 to 2,500 a month, including overtime bills,” he told The Daily Star over the phone.
On February 1, the Saudi government announced that it would hire workers from Bangladesh again, after a six-year ban since 2008 over anomalies in the recruitment process.